How to test a fire alarm

How often should your fire alarm be tested?

A fire alarm should be tested weekly according to the British Standard BS 5839-6: 2019 fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings. It is a simple procedure but necessary to check it is operating properly for optimum fire safety.

It is important to know where the alarm panel is located and to familiarise yourself with it, so you know it is working properly to ensure detection in the event of a fire.

In addition to this an in-depth fire alarm system inspection should be undertaken every 6 months, usually completed by a fire alarm engineering company.

Types of fire alarm systems

There are two types of fire alarm systems, manual and automatic. Both types operate on the same principle, as heat or smoke detectors that are triggered manually or automatically.

An example of a manual fire alarm installation is a series of break glass units, which are installed at each point of exit in a building. This allows those escaping a fire to raise the alarm.

An automatic fire alarm detects fire by monitoring environmental changes such as heat, smoke and carbon dioxide (depending on the type of fire). These changes in the environment automatically start the alarm.

How should a fire alarm test be carried out?

  • Read manufacturer’s instructions
  • Inform staff when you plan to carry out the test
  • Carry out the test at the same time every week
  • Ensure that if the fire alarm is connected to an ARC (Alarm Receiving Centre), you call the ARC and put the system on ‘test’
  • Make sure you have a manual call point reset key (this is to reset the manual call point after you have activated it
  • Record the test and which zone and call point was tested
  • Contact the ARC (Alarm Receiving Centre) and confirm they have received the fire signal and take the system off ‘test’
  • Go to a manual call point and activate it
  • Alarm sounds start
  • Insert your manual call point reset key and reset the manual call point
  • Return to the fire alarm control panel and confirm that the activated manual call point address and the zone are correct
  • If ok - silence the alarm and reset the fire alarm control panel
  • A different call point must be tested each week

Fire alarm maintenance

The responsible person (such as property manager, fire warden etc) of a building has a legal obligation for regular service and maintenance of the fire alarm.

This must be done by a competent specialist (who is BAFE SP203-1 approved) and crucial to ensure the efficiency and longevity of a fire alarm system.

The weekly testing and service visits should be recorded in a logbook.

How should fire alarm testing be recorded?

The fire alarm logbook is where all maintenance, tests and repairs can be recorded. It must always be kept on the premises, preferably near the fire control panel. And available for inspection by the FRS at all times.

The logbook needs to meet the requirements of both BS5839 part one and RRFSO.

It must include:

  • Dates and times of alarms (genuine and practice)
  • Dates, times and types of faults and what action was taken
  • Dates of tests of the system
  • Dates of servicing
  • Dates and times of disconnection
  • Any alterations to the system

Preventing false alarms

Most signals from automatic fire alarms are not actually fires. They test for smoke, heat and changes in the environment but that also means they pick up other elements such as steam, cigarette smoke and aerosol sprays.

False alarms are dangerous because fire crews should be at real emergencies, frequent false alarms result in staff to become complacent and is an unnecessary risk to the public.

How to reduce false alarms:

  • Make sure the fire alarm is the right type for the building
  • Make sure the alarm system is properly and regularly maintained and in good working order
  • Investigate all false alarms and take appropriate action
  • Introduce a suitable filtering process – a means to safely investigate why the fire alarm went off BEFORE calling for the fire brigade.

Common mistakes when testing weekly

  • Not having the reset key or code for the fire alarm control panel when testing a manual call point
  • Not testing a different call point each week
  • Not documenting the test in the fire alarm logbook
  • Forgetting to remove the test key
  • Using only the ‘evacuate’ button on the main control panel as the way to trigger the alarm
  • Not having back up batteries